IZM doesn't sacrifice its street cred
A Bboyizm production. At the Cultch on Wednesday, April 25. Continues at the Cultch until April 29, at the Surrey Arts Centre on May 2, and at the ACT Theatre in Maple Ridge on May 4
Yvon “Crazy Smooth” Soglo’s clever IZM opens with its dancers battling in a tight circle, mostly with their backs to the audience. You can’t really see what’s going on in there, and they’re chattering, hooting, and taking turns throwing themselves into the competition. At least five or 10 minutes go by before Soglo suddenly turns and pretends to notice the packed crowd sitting in the Cultch theatre. And that changes everything: the B-boys and B-girls start to face the viewers in a series of sequences that both pay tribute to and poke fun at urban dance.
The joke here is that B-boying grew out of the streets and the clubs and never evolved as a performing art form to be presented in front of a seated audience. But with IZM, Soglo and his crack, young eight-member crew (including charismatic Melly Mel and acrobatic Lost Child) have proven that it can be excitingly and artistically put to stage—without sacrificing street cred.
The back flips and high-octane floor and foot work that make B-boying so exhilaratingly watchable are here. But Soglo’s vignettes, set to a range of music, go deeper than tricks, playing with the roots of hip-hop and other street forms. There’s a number that integrates Latin dance, and others set to African rhythms and old-school rap.
At one point, each dancer strides across the stage, stands to stare at the audience, suddenly breaks into a flip or floor spin, and then stares and walks away again. Soglo is simultaneously satirizing the poserism of hip-hop along with the supposedly serious technical approach the art world expects of choreography. By the second round, the audience was already laughing whenever the dancer started stepping across the stage.
In another segment, the dancers whirl around the floor in a gruelling break-dance routine, and then they stop to groan and gasp for air—yanking down the usual art-performance façade of making it look easy.
It may come as a surprise that the show isn’t all dance here: props go to an old film clip where Pierre Berton, of all people, interviews Bruce Lee about being an authentic performer; and Soglo sends up the judgment of the traditional arts world with a pseudo-lecture that touches on everything from Marshall McLuhan to didacticism. Other comic numbers, such as one where Soglo has to grudgingly hand over layers of shirts and hats after losing a battle, feel a little too skitlike in the context.
It says something, though, that the most exhilarating piece in the evening is the final half-circle battle, with the performers facing the audience. The entire crowd, from 50-ish arts patrons to elementary-school kids to teenagers, clapped and whooped for the dancers like they were at the Red Bull BC One championship. If you can get tickets, this will be the most fun you’ve had at the theatre in a long time.
I’m not sure IZM is pushing hip-hop moves into fresh territory—and that’s probably not its purpose. But it is definitely showing it can appeal to an audience far outside its usual cool, inside crowd. Soglo has fittingly and provocatively been chosen by the Canadian Dance Assembly to make April 29’s International Dance Day address. As he says in the official statement’s postscript: “Dance to express, not impress.”